By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — All of the tough games and ugly-looking wins were a distant memory as Carolina played its best game of the season against depleted Florida State.
There was so much to love for Tar Heels fans as they led by 40 points in the second half on their way to Saturday’s 94–74 win in the Smith Center, starting with the return of consistent shooting from Caleb Love.
Love, who scored 18 points and a career-high six 3-pointers, struggled in recent games. But he showed the maturity of his game by sharing the ball well with a season-high-tying six assists on a day when he found his shooting rhythm.
“Florida State likes to pressure, so it’s easy to get a pass when somebody’s pressuring like that,” Love said. “Go right past, just drawing the defense and I kick it out or I drop off to [Armando Bacot or Brady Manek], and they’re knocking down shots and dunking the ball. It was just reading the defense and that’s what we all did today.”
From a Kerwin Walton kick-out 3, Dontrez Styles hitting the boards and Leaky Black making outlet passes in transition to Puff Johnson making a 3 on one end and drawing a charge on the other, it was a feel-good victory for UNC (18–7, 10–4 ACC).
Love said he “caught a flat tire,” on his failed windmill dunk attempt.
“It feels great,” Love said of his better shooting game after getting only four 3-pointers in the previous three games combined. “I told myself, there’s going to be a game when I get out of my slump. I told one of my teammates that. It’s just getting a feel of the basketball back and seeing a couple go through.”
Armando Bacot had 17 points and 14 rebounds for his 19th double-double this season (second in the country) and 37th of his career. Bacot has 43 dunks this season, the most since Isaiah Hicks’ 49 in the 2016–17 season.
Brady Manek and RJ Davis both scored 16 points.
Carolina shot 55.2% for the game and is 9–0 when it shoots at least 50% this season.
Even when the lead kept ballooning, Love wasn’t satisfied.
“We knew what the score was and, each media timeout, I was just telling my teammates to stay on the next,” Love said. “Don’t let up at all because it’s all good experiences and we’ve got to keep getting better as a team.”
Carolina assisted on 12 of 23 field goals in the first half and finished with a season-high 22 assists.
“I think we all just bought into playing together,” said RJ Davis, who had five assists and has scored in double figures in eight consecutive games. “We were able to share the ball on the offensive end. But I also think our energy of the defensive end and communication was an attack in this game. That’s why we were able to build up so big of a lead in the first half.”
Coach Hubert Davis said the keys to the game were good defense, rebounding to limit Florida State to one shot, getting second-chance opportunities and taking care of the basketball.
“In the first half, we nearly did those things perfectly,” he said.
Davis said that he is proud of his team’s resiliency.
“When we get knocked down, we always get back up,” he said. “So, we had that tough stretch at the beginning of the year in Connecticut; we bounced back. We had that tough week against Miami and Wake Forest and came back and won four straight. We had a disappointing outcome against Duke just last week. What was on the plate was for us to come and compete against really good teams and we did that.”
UNC scored the game’s first 18 points, spurred by two 3-pointers from Love and one from Manek, Black’s three-point play and a transition slam from Manek.
FSU finally scored on a Tanor Ngom free throw with 13:03 left. Cam’Ron Fletcher’s layup with 11:32 left finally gave the Noles a field goal.
The Tar Heels’ 18–0 lead was their best start since scoring the first 19 points in 2019 against Wake Forest.
It just got worse for the Noles as leading scorer Caleb Mills turned his left ankle midway through the first half and didn’t return. Florida State has already lost guard Anthony Polite (wrist surgery) and center Naheem McLeod (broken hand) for the rest of the season.
It was the sixth consecutive loss for the Seminoles (13–11, 6–8), who have had to give walk-on Harrison Prieto, a sixth-year senior, significant minutes. He only played 32 minutes all season before playing 84 minutes in the last four games, including 23 on Saturday.
UNC shot 74.2% to lead 62–24 at halftime. It was the Heels’ first 60-point half since leading Elon 64-45 on Nov. 9, 2018, in a 116–67 road victory and the largest halftime lead since a 47-point edge against Florida Atlantic on Dec. 19, 2006, a 105–52 win.
Carolina had 1.55 points per possession in the first half compared to 0.62 for the Seminoles.
UNC’s 40-point lead 75 seconds into the second half was its largest lead of the season and the largest since the Notre Dame win at last season’s ACC Tournament.
The 38-point halftime lead topped the 33-point edge over N.C. State in 2017 for the largest halftime lead in Smith Center history in an ACC game in the 295th league game at the arena. It was the third-largest halftime lead in Smith Center history.
The Seminoles caught fire offensively, matching their first-half total in the first 10 minutes of the second half, but it had long ago become a lost cause.
It was Carolina’s largest win in the series since an 83–62 victory at the 2013 ACC Tournament.
The Tar Heels are at home again at 8 p.m. Wednesday to face Pittsburgh (ACC Network). The Panthers (10–16, 5–10), who won at Florida State 56–51 on Wednesday, beat N.C. State 71–69 at home Saturday afternoon.
UNC 94, Florida State 74
UNC season statistics
day, time, TV
|5||83–55 exhibition win||Home||Elizabeth City State|
|9||83–67 win, 1–0||Home||Loyola Maryland|
|12||94–87 win, 2–0||Home||Brown|
|16||94–83 win, 3–0||Road||College of Charleston|
|20||93–84 loss, 3–1||Uncasville, Conn.||Y — No. 3 Purdue|
|21||89–72 loss, 3–2||Uncasville, Conn.||Y — No. 19 Tennessee|
|23||72–53 win, 4–2||Home||UNC Asheville|
|December (5–1, 1-0 ACC)|
|1||72–51 win, 5–2||Home||X — Michigan|
|5||79–62 win, 6–2, 1-0 ACC||Road||Georgia Tech|
|11||80–63 win, 7–2 ACC||Home||Elon|
|14||74–61 win, 8–2 ACC||Home||Furman|
|18||98–69 loss, 8–3 ACC||Las Vegas||Z — No. 5 Kentucky|
|21||70–50 win, 9–3 ACC||Home||Appalachian State|
|January (6–3, 6–3 ACC)|
|2||91–65 win, 10–3, 2-0 ACC||Road||Boston College|
|5||78–73 loss, 10–4, 2-1 ACC||Road||Notre Dame|
|8||74–58 win, 11–4, 3–1 ACC||Home||Virginia|
|15||88–65 win, 12–4, 4–1 ACC||Home||Georgia Tech|
|18||85–57 loss, 12–5, 4–2 ACC||Road||Miami|
|22||98–76 loss, 12–6, 4–3 ACC||Road||Wake Forest|
|24||78–68 win, 13–6, 5–3 ACC||Home||Virginia Tech|
|26||58–47 win, 14–6, 6–3 ACC||Home||Boston College|
|29||100–80 win, 15–6, 7–3 ACC||Home||N.C. State|
|February (3–1, 3–1 ACC)|
|1||90–82 OT win, 16–6, 8–3 ACC||Road||Louisville|
|5||87–67 loss, 16–7, 8–4 ACC||Home||No. 7 Duke|
|8||79–77 win, 17–7, 9–4 ACC||Road||Clemson|
|12||94–74 win, 18–7, 10–4 ACC||Home||Florida State|
|16||Wednesday, 8, ACCN||Home||Pittsburgh|
|19||Saturday, 4, ESPN2||Road||Virginia Tech|
|21||Monday, 7, ESPN||Home||Louisville|
|26||Saturday, 2, ESPN or ESPN2||Road||N.C. State|
|28||Monday, 7, ESPN||Home||Syracuse|
|5||Saturday, 6, ESPN||Road||No. 7 Duke|
Photo via @UNC_Basketball